In vN, Madeline Ashby tells the story of Amy Peterson – an android little girl from a mixed synthetic/organic home. Her mother and herself are Von Neuman androids – self-replicating robots, while her father is human. Despite the differences between her and other children, Amy grows up loved and well cared for – until the day her android grandmother crashes her Kindergarten graduation. When Amy rushes to her mother’s defense, the confrontation ends with Amy consuming her adversary. Her innocence ends and her life is changed forever.
The Von Neumann machines – or vN for short – have lived alongside humans for years in a world where Asimov’s three laws of robotics are never mentioned. Rather, all the androids have a fail-safe that causes them anxiety and eventual shut down if they see a human come to harm. But the fail-safe has broken – at least for Amy – and everyone wants a piece of her. In this case, quite literally.
This bizarre book combines robot cannibalism with a horrific coming of age story. Amy’s adventure takes her through parts of her society that she had never dreamed existed, and the age-old questions present themselves over and over again. What is the nature of free-will? What does it mean to truly be a person? Or even, what does it mean to be a family?
The action almost never stops, and the characters must face ever greater dangers. Will they survive? And if so, how? Those are the questions that keep the pages turning, because the characters are so compelling and real, torn between desire and danger, loyalty and safety. Their emotional depth took me completely by surprise.
There was honestly nothing about the book I disliked; I adored it all – from the bizarre beginning, through all the action, horror, and gut-wrenching twists, right until the very end. Since this novel is Book I of the Machine Dynasty, I’m eagerly awaiting its sequel. In my opinion, vN is one of the best and most original robot books since Asimov.